Welcome to the first day of our Q and A with Travel Writer Lara Dunston!
Remember that I’m giving away FIVE copies of Lara and Terry Carter‘s new guidebook, Travellers Calabria. See details here, but essentially you can comment every day this week for a chance to win Lara and Terry’s book.
And don’t forget to go back and comment on yesterday’s post for a chance to win a Calabrian CD by the group Marasà.
Now, my first two questions to Lara (all photos provided by Lara and Terry):
1. OK, let’s start close to home. What was your favorite part about writing the Calabrian guidebook?
The research trip around Calabria was fantastic. I write with my husband Terry Carter [pictured right, learning Italian after a bit of wine, always the best time to learn], who is a travel photographer and we did a month-long road trip around the region for this book and just loved it! Terry was shooting photos for the book, and when he’s doing photography for a book we tend to meet more people, because we’re not undercover as we might be if we were just writing.
The research trip is the best part of any book commission for me. The actual writing can be monotonous although it can be wonderful in the sense that we re-visit the places in our imagination as we write about them, and re-live the trip in a way.
But we’re tied to desks writing for 15-18 hours a day seven days a week for a month or two, which can get hard to handle – and for Terry, he’s also selecting photos and photo-editing. When we’re doing the research, we get to drive through spectacular landscapes (especially in the case of Calabria), explore charming towns (ditto!), learn about the history, culture and society, and get to meet fascinating people along the way.
Before we did the Calabria book, we’d spent a lot of time in Italy over the years, travelled all over, and had driven all over Sicily, but the furthest south we’d ever been on the mainland was the Amalfi.
Calabria is very different to the rest of Italy and we just loved it. We thoroughly enjoyed the countryside, especially the tortuous drives through spectacular mountain scenery.
We were there in spring and the wildflowers were beautiful, everything was lush and green, the air was fragrant – we loved the Sila and Aspromonte National Park [left] especially, and we adored all those charming hilltop towns that seem to tumble down mountainsides or are perched precariously atop cliffs, like Tropea [photo of beach below], Pizzo, Morano Calabro and Amantea. They’re all so enchanting…
We particularly enjoyed the food – the spices, the peperoncino, all the fresh seafood –we had some incredible gastronomic experiences that we didn’t expect to have. There was one particularly memorable meal near Camigliatello at La Tavernetta where we had a degustation menu that revolved around mushrooms that had just been picked. My god! I know a bit about food and have eaten in thousands of restaurants obviously, but I’d never tasted mushrooms this good before or realized they could be done in so many ways.
The company was pretty special that night too – we were taken to the restaurant by a Baron and Baroness – and our accommodation was equally memorable – their hunting lodge, Torre Camigliati, which is now a B&B.
When we were in Amantea we stayed at the splendid Palazzo delle Clarisse [right] (more like a castle than a palace!) – in a suite that Queens had stayed in! – and we savored some of the most creative and refined cuisine we’ve had in Italy at their restaurant.
That night we also dined with the owner, a fascinating and charming guy, a former Italian politician who now writes magical realist novels, and his friend, who produces some of Italy’s finest award-winning olive oil.
We had another stupendous meal at Il Fiore del Cappero in Reggio Calabria – I think that was the same day I zipped around Reggio on the back of a Vespa doing inspections of B&Bs! Don’t ask… so sometimes the pleasure of research is as much about the people you meet along the way as it is the places you go to.
2. You’ve been all around the world, so please share: what is your favorite travel destination and why?
There are so many wonderful places in this world that I find it impossible to pick one. I don’t have one favorite place. Nor does Terry. I guess if we did, we’d be living in one place instead of living out of our suitcases and travelling the world like gypsies!
Rather, I have different destinations for different moods or seasons or activities… I love springtime anywhere in the Mediterranean or in the Middle East, winter anywhere in the Alps but particularly Northern Italy and Switzerland and Austria, while I also love winter in the outback in Australia (nothing compares to the clarity of light).
Summer in San Sebastian, Spain, is pretty special, also Scandinavia, and anywhere in Italy – as crowded as it can get, there’s a real buzz about summer – especially in Calabria where everyone gets out in the evenings and does the passeggiata.
And I’m happy in Thailand any time, ditto re: South America.
Wow, what a fabulous start to the Q and A, Lara! Thanks!
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